“It scares the hell out of me bringing up boys in London”

DSC_0718

Charlie Baxter has lived in Deptford for the past 10 years and in that time, she has got so involved in the local community that it is now difficult to imagine Deptford without her. Charlie volunteers as a Scout Leader at 2nd Deptford, the local Scouts Hall, she volunteers and is trustee at the Sir John Evelyn Trust, a charity which looks after the elderly, and she volunteers at Tidemill School, reading with the children and acting as a parent governor. Charlie also has two jobs: she is Fun and Wellbeing Leader at Tidemill School and runs her own business – Baxter Party Services – organising family events in the local area such as the annual Summer Festival at the Armada Hall, Halloween Party at the Scouts Hall and more recently a Christmas and New Year’s Eve party in the same place, the Stay & Play Group, a toddlers’ play group once a week at the Armada and privately booked parties (see images below). Charlie also has a family with 5 children, some of whom are Scouts and attend local schools. Although Charlie does so much for local families, she doesn’t think of herself as doing anything special. “Being in touch with local families and having my fingers in all those pies is also good for my own benefit as it gives me links for my own business. Also, my kids are the next generation living in Deptford and I want them to grow up in a safe area so if there’s anything I can do to improve it I will. So, my voluntary work is not just out of the greatness of my heart, it is for a purpose as well!”

Charlie used to be a community worker and tells me a bit about the kind of work she used to do: “I used to work for Lady, so, for example, if a family came to the Children centre or the Nursery and said ‘I need help with housing, I’ve got damp up my walls’, we would speak to a housing officer, get medical reports and try to get the problem fixed. Another common issue we would deal with were women in abusive relationships that had run away from home and needed help with rebuilding their lives. There used to be this phenomenal course on offer, a Discover-Me-Course that was funded by the Children’s Centre and cost £6,000 and you would witness the transformation of these broken women who couldn’t cope with the most basic things in life into confident, independent women. The course was all about knowing yourself again, learning how to get out of bed in the morning and back to bed at night without fear; basically, how to have a normal life again, how to go back to work, how to get their shopping and whatever else they needed. It was amazing to see the journey they went through. All this has stopped now, the funding is gone, advice centres have closed due to funding cuts and women and families are left to fend for themselves, meaning women can’t escape abusive relationships and many families live in unhealthy conditions for years.”

Despite Charlie being incredibly well connected, she wouldn’t know where to send women now if they came to her saying, ‘I’m being beaten up by my husband, I don’t know what to do’. According to Charlie, there is no more community worker at the Children’s Centre at McMillan nursery, there is no-one anymore Charlie could ask for advice on this, and as far as she knows, there is no-one doing home visits anymore to try and help these women. The only nursery with a community worker Charlie is aware of in Greenwich is Quaggy, but as Charlie comments, “if you’re suffering from domestic violence, you’re not going to go far from your house. The fact that you’ve come out of your house is a miracle in itself, so having to go somewhere else is out of the question for many. I just don’t understand why they’ve taken away community workers: you’ve got a nursery full of families, you got a Children’s centre, why not have a community worker that can help with common problems? It’s a real shame!”

Charlie tells the story of a lady who recently went to a family liaison officer at a school, asking for help with being rehoused. “Her house is covered in damp from top to bottom so that it almost looks like it’s the wallpaper. Her baby, who is sleeping in the living room as the damp in the bedroom is worse, has asthma, coughs all the time and has chronic throat infection because of the damp, and yet no-one is able to help her. She’s been to the doctor several times, spoke to housing, spoke to the family liaison officer but no-one is behind her saying “No, this is not acceptable!” She’s been fighting this for 2 years and it looks like she’s not getting anywhere. It’s shocking!”

On top of all that, Charlie says there is another problem – the stigma of being poor particularly for single mothers, who are often perceived and represented as being dumb and as benefit scroungers. Charlie argues that jobs for mums, jobs that happen at a time when the child is in school and that offer 16 hours a week such as a dinner lady or cleaner, are scarce and childcare is too expensive to take on a job during school hours. “If you’re a single parent with young children and need to pay for childcare because you’re working, you need to earn £30,000 a year, if not £40,000 now, to be able to afford that. Childcare is expensive and there is no way on earth some of the women in this area would be able to afford it. And even if they were to work full-time, with housing benefit, income support and council tax taken off, they would never be able to support themselves with the little they get paid!” Charlie herself knows what it’s like not being able to afford to work as once she had to turn down a job at a school, a job she really wanted, because it would have left her worse off than on income support, a cut she couldn’t afford. Now, with her children being older, she has two jobs to support herself and her family.

When I ask Charlie about Deptford, how she perceives the area and what she thinks of the changes happening, she expresses concern about crime in the area, particularly on her road where a centre for young ex-offenders is located and where incidents and patrols are frequent. She is particularly worried about knife crime and the safety of her children, particularly her boys. “The amount of times I’ve turned on the news in the morning and a lad down the road has been stabbed and killed, or there’s been a fight and someone’s in hospital, and all my friends on Facebook go ‘Oh my God that’s So and So’s boy’. I really don’t want to be that mum who receives that phone call. I’ve got 2 girls and 3 boys, and it scares the hell out of me bringing up boys in London. So, if I can influence the area in any way, I’ll do that. My children are the next generation and I don’t want them on the streets in gangs and with knives, that’s why I try to get young kids involved in the Scouts group, to get them off the streets. We really need an evening club for 16 – 20-year-olds, a safe place for them to go and hang out, but there is nothing!”

DSC_0721Charlie with some of her team at the local Scout Hall

In terms of the regeneration of Deptford itself, Charlie is all for bringing money and businesses into the area – but only if there is enough social housing and if it benefits the right people for the right reasons, something which clearly isn’t happening. “These new developments – they are supposed to give a percentage back into the community, but I don’t know where the money is gone in all those builds around here because I can’t see anything done for the local community. We tried to get money for a desperately-needed new roof for the Scouts Hall, but we were told the Section 106 money had already been spent! Really? Where? The Scouting Association for example are known world-wide, so don’t tell me you don’t know anything about local community groups or where to put your money. Developers are making huge profits and local people are losing out. It’s shocking! With only £5,000, a drop in their ocean, they could do something really lovely for the community. I know parents or some elderly people that only come out once a week to a group. Without that group, they have nowhere to go. I see so many people that are isolated because there is nowhere for them to go where they can find support and information. There used to be a lot of local services and support groups – there was a Somalian mum’s group, a Polish group that started out for vulnerable mums that had come over and developed into a post-natal group that was run by health visitors, there was a breastfeeding group, baby massage, lots of things. There used to be so many funded groups and they have all disappeared because they can’t afford to rent the spaces anymore. There are now massive gaps here for people of all walks of life for all different reasons.”

Luckily, there are a lot of people like Charlie who are making up for some of these gaps, providing assistance for the most vulnerable on a voluntary basis. Even if the community work is also for her own benefit as Charlie says, the positive impact of her commitment to the area will be felt by a lot of people in need. Through this research I have met so many people who spend their own time helping others, and I have witnessed so much good work going on in the community, work that is not heard about, not known about, not praised enough and not funded, and that is a real shame.

Charlie is currently raising money for the local Scout Group. If you would like to donate, please click on this link: https://www.facebook.com/donate/418808578692143/10219087259031627/

Advertisements

“We need green spaces – we are breathing in a lot of toxic air!”

This post was written by Jacky Jones, long-term Deptford resident, community worker, volunteer and grandmother. She tells the story of how she dealt with her own loneliness and depression by becoming a member of the community that helps others in need. Worried about the increasing levels of loneliness and mental health issues in a vastly growing area, she has recently set up a befriending club, offering the most precious gift: time to listen.

Photographs by Anita Strasser: Jacky in her favourite green space in Deptford – Sayes Court Garden.

__________________________________________________________________________________

DSC_2322

My name is Jacky and I have been living in Deptford/New Cross for more than 30 years. When I arrived in the 80s, I moved into a flat in Arlington House along Evelyn Street SE8 with my young daughter. My son was born not long after. When I first arrived, I didn’t think much of the area. In fact, I felt very depressed because I didn’t know anybody and went weeks without talking to anyone. Where I come from, a small village in Wales, people are very friendly and always nod their head when they see you. In London it was difficult to even get eye contact and not being acknowledged made me feel even more depressed. Some days I would smile and acknowledge people whom I had seen on many occasions. If I got one smile, I felt it wasn’t so bad. I suppose it’s what you make of your situation. Overall, I wasn’t in a good place mentally when I moved here, but I knew I had to do my best for my daughter!

To help me with my loneliness and depression, I started doing voluntary work for a charity in London. I was supporting families of people in prison in the London courts. I also trained to be a befriender and worked on the national and local helpline. Because of my experience in the courts and other volunteering work, I was offered paid work in the Deptford nursery my daughter went to. I was also able to take my son into work, which was a bonus.

From my flat in Arlington House, I could see young children at the bottom sniffing glue. I was mortified and realised, I don’t want my kids to grow up hanging around the streets so I decided I wanted to run an after-school club for my and other children to keep them off the streets. I went to college to do a business course and to get a diploma in Child Care. This enabled me to be qualified to run the after-school club. During that time, I realised how little there was going on for young children or how little there was on offer to help parents to go back to work or college. After my qualifications, I did a business plan and I had to present my ideas to a grant committee with people from the government and trustees from the John Evelyn Trust. Doing all the qualifications and volunteering work had really lifted me and given me so much self-confidence and determination to make things work. I couldn’t believe I was sitting in front of this committee talking about my business plan! The funders liked my proposal so much, I got a start-up grant there and then!

I ran the club in Charlotte Turner School for years until financial issues prevented me from continuing. In the 30 years I’ve lived in Deptford, facilities for the young have not really changed. Other things have changed like more blocks of flats and less green spaces. Even I live on land which used to be a park for local people. The council sold it off over 20 years ago and now the land has houses on it. Obviously, I am very pleased to be able to live in one of the houses – the flat in Arlington House was too small for a family with two children and I moved over 20 years ago. I can now grow food in the garden, which is my passion. But all these big construction companies promise to build extra facilities for all the extra people and then don’t. Regeneration is important but it’s also important that they provide extra schools and facilities to cater for the needs of people. Lots more flats are being built but not everyone can afford to live in them or buy them. It’s grossly unfair to the local people whose families have been extended and live in overcrowded conditions for a long time. Some families have moved out and many are even leaving London. Some retire and move into the countryside or the seaside, but others move because of the stresses and strain of living in the city. With all the gentrification going on and all the new people moving in, they build up into the sky because there is no more room on the ground and that means more isolation for people. I know because I lived in a tower block for over 10 years and I felt totally isolated because you never see anyone. This isolation then causes multiple other issues such as mental instability and depression, which then cause strain on national health services. Also being surrounded by such tall blocks is enough to make one feel suppressed. When I come out of my house, I now have a 22-storey and other, smaller blocks in front of me. This takes away a lot of day light and makes me feel closed in. It’s not good for our mental health. Here’s a little poem I’ve written:

Oh no, walk out the door
Oh no, another floor ☹
Oh no, how many more
Oh no, can’t see the sun no more ☹

Another big problem with all the extra people coming in is traffic, which has got so much worse over the years. And because of that, we are breathing in a lot more toxic air! The pollution has gone so bad and at the same time we are losing all the green spaces. There are hardly any left in Deptford and I often walk around with a scarf covering my nose and mouth because of the pollution. With all these huge building projects like Convoy’s Wharf for example, there must be money about. These big corporations deal with millions if not billions and it wouldn’t surprise me, if they paid the council some money too. All those feasibility studies – who pays for that? We need green spaces and places for people to go to.

DSC_2328

I’m not saying everything about gentrification is bad; it’s much better than slumification. The type of people that are coming in now just have different requirements. Many like eating vegetarian food and like to sit in coffee places. Not all the people coming in are rich; many move here because that’s the only place they can afford. We all just want to make a decent living and make the best out of life. In Deptford, people congregate from all over the UK and the world. I’m not a local here, although after 30 years in Deptford I do see myself as a local. My children certainly are. Anyway, London’s always been a place where all kinds of people congregate, and if you have the energy and passion, anything can be achieved in this city. But I fear London is running out of space and it will just be high-rise homes in the future. And the problem is that when there’s gentrification going on, there’s mostly always deprivation alongside of it. Statistical information shows that Deptford was one of the most deprived areas in London 30 years ago. I don’t think this has changed much. The only thing that’s changed is that more and more people have moved in. Years ago, I used to go to a lot of council and planning meetings and already then they used to say Deptford was up-and-coming. Oh yeah? I see more betting shops than ever! With the influx of so many different nationalities who gravitate to London for a better life, different people face different challenges every day. The social make-up has changed a lot in the area and for me it’s about getting the balance right to create change for all people. We’re all different people with different needs and we need to live together the best we can. I think the vibrational energy is much better now than 30 years ago so evolution can be a good thing but it depends on your situation whether change is good for you or not.

There is such a lack of social clubs for the elderly and for the young, there is nowhere for them to go and because of that I have recently started up a befriending drop-in in my local community centre, doing holistic healing and other things. Older people, especially those that have been in Deptford for several generations, are often too proud to seek help and admit that they are lonely. So many older people out there are lonely, have no-one to talk to so I’m here for them. I make them a cuppa, talk to them, give them a little back massage, or we do some knitting and drawing. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s achievable if there’s enough support. If I can help only one person each time, it’s worth it. I feel lucky that I was able to achieve what I have.

DSC_2323

Twinkle Park and Charlotte Turner Gardens

This text was written by Carol Kenna, multi-disciplinary artist, founder of Greenwich Mural Workshop and the Charlton Park Reminiscence Project, and coordinator of Twinkle Park Trust. Her article describes what it means to work with local communities to respond to the regeneration of their neighbourhood and to ensure that regeneration proposals work towards more sustainable and inclusive redevelopment. Working primarily with Arts and Environmental improvement funds, central Government Single Regeneration Budget, local government regeneration programmes that invested in neighbourhoods to create a better quality of life for existing local communities through job creation, skills development, health and education facilities, transport, housing and green spaces and arts events, Carol says that what is happening today is not a regeneration programme, “it’s simply developers clicking their fingers to make more profit”. Although working with local authorities was not easy in the past either, Carol’s work demonstrates what local communities can achieve when given the necessary resources. All Photographs by Carol Kenna.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Twinkle Park and Charlotte Turner Gardens

Stephen Lobb and I set up Greenwich Mural Workshop (GMW) in 1975 with the intention of using mural painting as a way of working with local communities to express their hopes and fears, brighten their neighbourhoods, help communities work together and make an impact on the city. The murals were intended to have a short life – just 5 years, as we began by using indoor emulsion paints. Contrary to expectation the murals lasted much longer and when they did show signs of wear and tear we found the host community wanted it restored or repainted or created in mosaic to ensure a long life. We also found that the initial mural often led to building an adjacent pocket park or campaigning for environmental improvements to the neighbourhood.

We collaborated with architects, landscape architects, neighbourhood resource centres, other arts organisations and eventually became part of a community forum monitoring development proposals and how they met the needs of the community that would be affected. Although both of us were trained as fine artists, Stephen taught in an architecture college and I had undertaken a postgraduate course in social and economic planning, we were both naturally interested in the design and layout of the city and how it supported or ignored the indigenous communities, and we were both interested in using our artistic skills in this setting finding the fine art scene stultifying. Working with tenants associations primarily we worked to produce murals, set up a silkscreen print workshop to produce agitprop posters and banners for community organisations and trade unions and began working with schools to help them refurbish their playgrounds to make them more interesting and responsive to the children’s needs and wishes. All our work centred on working co-operatively with other groups and in a setting where residents, professionals including us artists brought their relative skills to the table to find a solution to any problems as they presented themselves to us.

I became chair of the Greenwich Community Forum and then joint chair of the Greenwich Waterfront Development Partnership (established 1991), a tripartite organisation that sought central Government Single Regeneration Budget funds to support projects along the length of the Greenwich Waterfront. The three partners were local authority, business and community, all working well collaboratively.

Deptford fell under the auspices of the Creekside SRB partnership and their “Building Bridges’ Programme.

In October 1992 I was asked by a resident of Rowley House Watergate Street to help redevelop the adjacent and derelict local authority playground – once known as Hughes Fields Recreation Playground – as a play space for local children.

tw. Pk 1994-1Twinkle Park in 1994

The play area was less than enticing as it housed shoulder high weeds, rusted play equipment, Victorian railings and an abandoned metal container.

So began a life long relationship with the residents of Hughes Fields in Deptford.

By February 1993 we had set up the Twinkle Park Steering Group involving Hughes Fields primary school, the school’s After Care Club, Hughes Fields Tenants Association, various officers from Greenwich Council departments – Leisure Services, Strategic Planning – architects and landscape architects, GMW and EEA. An eclectic mix, but enabling potential conflicts between activists and the establishment to be worked out through amiable conflict and solutions found – a methodology we use to this day.

GMW ran workshops in the primary school, collected ideas of how a park could work to support both the needs of the locality and the school and raise the necessary funds to implement the proposals. Taking on this role we attended many tenants association meetings and gradually overcame their natural suspicion of the interloper.

The proposals to re-establish Hughes Fields Recreation Area as Twinkle Park and refurbish Charlotte Turner Gardens, establishing a pedestrian friendly route between Deptford High Street and the River, were neighbourhood changing and therefore potentially financially prohibitive. Our attitude was that if Deptford was becoming gentrified then the resident community required an equally adventurous, well-designed, top quality materials playground. Deptford City Challenge arrived about that time but concentrated on Deptford High Street. Deptford Power station was demolished in 1992 for a riverside complex with the social housing element at the rear of the development away from sought after riverside apartments. For about 3 years the loss of the power station opened up views to the River for the council tenants. Unsurprisingly the new development – Millenium Quays – re-obscured these views but through community pressure the original single wall of flats was divided into two or three blocks, but still the social housing was at the back of the development. Gentrification was coming to Deptford threatening a strong cross borough community who identified strongly as Deptford people not Greenwich or Lewisham.

Between 1994 and 1996 the Steering Group looked at various ways of implementing the refurbishment of ‘Twinkle Park’ – the name taken either from the amount of broken glass on the ground that ‘twinkled’ in the evening lamplight or the name of the original playground supervisor – Mrs. Twinkle.

We were determined that the project was developed by local people not some outside developer so we considered a volunteer workforce, fruitless offers for help by TV personalities such as Anneka Rice and finally agreed that the Trust would raise the money, develop the master-plan and employ professional contractors to undertake the work.

Chinese New Year celebration with Hughes Fields primary school and Emergency Exit Arts

By 1996, despite a slight hiccup whereby the primary school and local council had tarmacked the play area as playground space, we persuaded Greenwich Leisure Services to provide a grant to develop a public park that could operate both for the general public and the school was an innovative and vibrant idea. A requirement of the grant was to include Charlotte Turner Gardens in the plans in order to encourage greater use of this public space, empty even during a scorching summer.

Working from ideas that had arisen during workshops with the school we prepared questionnaires delivered throughout Hughes Fields neighbourhood and undertook a ‘Planning for Real’ workshop in Armada Community Hall. The Armada Hall workshops included the Steering Group, local authority architects who were coincidentally working on plans to expand the primary school, other local architects, landscape architects, officers from the local authority and the Creekside SRB Agency, local residents and children.

A master-plan was developed from these discussions, presented back to local people for their agreement and amendment and eventually in late 1996 a landscape architect was appointed to ‘detail’ the master-plan.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATheft of dog grills for ‘scrap’ metal

It was agreed that the Steering Group should be set up first as a business and later a charity and that GMW could either become ‘employed’ by the Trust to continue to raise funds and oversee the project or be a Trust member but not both. It was agreed that GMW would become the Trust’s coordinator thereby establishing the Trust from local representatives and implementer of the project.

Greenwich Council eventually agreed this format, but would elect a local councilor as a member of the board and a lease was negotiated between Greenwich borough and the Trust, leasing both Twinkle Park and Charlotte Turner Gardens to the Trust for a period of thirty years with the option of renewal in 2028.

It took 3 years to conclude this lease. At the same time an agreement was set up between the council, the school and the Trust for use of the park for play facilities during the daytime in return for subsidised community use of school facilities that had been designed into the school when the school buildings were expanded, achieved by GMW and the council architects working together to produce a design for the park to support this. Sadly more adventurous ideas such as the tree walk linking the second floor of the additional classrooms through the park trees fell by the wayside. Again this was due to finding creative borough officers willing to work outside-the-box and a joint belief that blue-sky thinking is essential for the resulting compromise to be adventurous.

Twinkle Park openOpening celebration to launch paper boats on the pond led by Nick Raynsford MP

The master plan was enacted step by step. Twinkle Park was installed in two sections. The pond area first, followed by the games area, necessary as work on the school development was delayed. The gazebo design and working floor compass was the result of a public competition, open to children, residents, and professionals resulting in eleven designs displayed in Armada Hall and voted on by the public. Architect Piers Gough chaired the competition group and although his choice was not the choice of the public, expertly chaired the group through the necessary scrutiny of the designs before they were passed to an engineering firm to ensure it would stand up properly. In all three designs were chosen, one for the structure of the gazebo, a second for the bench gates that could be wheeled open or shut to isolate the games area from the rest of the park for school use and the third for the floor design.

Over the past twenty years the master plan has been enacted in stages relying on GMW and the Trust raising the funds. At each stage the original master-plan proposals were subjected to renewed consultation by the local community to ensure that the original proposals were fit for purpose. Some changes were made but the essence of the masterplan was maintained and some interesting elements added – an apple orchard, naturalised cherry trees whose fruit could be safely eaten –influenced by knowing a local resident annually harvested the cherries from the street trees, fitness equipment and then a toddlers play area. The overall design referenced the nearby River Thames, something than many residents were unaware of. Each stage contained an ’art work’ – so Twinkle Park included both the gazebo and a purpose-built tug dingy as a seat. Benbow Street included school railings with a wave motive and the corner projected as the bow of a ship, also a circular stone roundel that one day might be replaced with a fountain that reflects the state of the tides; the Gardens have a functional analematic sundial and the toddler play area sports a Viking ship and sculptured stepping stones that reflect drawings developed with Rose Bruford nursery school children and members of the Spice playscheme and produced by local sculptor Richard Lawrence.

Throughout resident’s ideas have been incorporated – retaining the cobbles in Benbow Street, gleaned from their use as ballast in the cargo ships leaving Deptford Dockyard; keeping the Victorian railings around Twinkle Park, protecting the ancient Plane Trees with TPOs.

The completion of each stage is celebrated with a public festival event, which over the years has developed into an annual festival. In between the Trust and GMW fund raise to support events such as Chinese New Year, environmental and wild-life courses, a secret mosaic pathway in Twinkle Park and the I-spy poster to raise people’s awareness of the local history of the area.

May Day Celebrations

Over the years the Trust has received a variety of accolades, from BURA (British Urban Regeneration Agency) for developing a model of local implementation that could act as a template for other communities; from the Civic Trust for quality of design, from Keep Britain Tidy for quality for the two parks. We have raised near £2million pounds to implement the improvements and various allied projects and we constantly look for ways that the Trust can continue as an active element in the local community.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPond Weed Clearance

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABorthwick Street demolished but not yet risen

Will we ever finish, this year we restored the pond to the Park, having mysteriously disappeared overnight in 2013. We work to stay involved with local developments, Convoys, redevelopment of the school yet again and the Sayes Court project.

Carol Kenna, December 2018